[The paradigm explained above with regard to the Divine service of yichuda tata’ah also applies with regard to the study of the Oral Law.] With regard to the Divine service of yichuda tata’ah, it was explained that although [yichuda tata’ah] also involves bittul, nevertheless, without at least a taste of yichuda ila’ah, the person will fall from his level and become attached to the Tree of Death.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the study of the Torah. When a person studies the Oral Law lo lishmah, with­out any particular intent, and without love and fear [of G‑d], i.e., without involving the Tree of Life which is the love and fear [of G‑d, his Torah study will not elevate him spiritually. On the contrary,] because of its enclothement in the garments of material concerns, and because his entire occupation is with material entities - even the information and under­standing in which he is involved is material in nature - and particularly if it has already enclothed itself in the garments of good and evil, i.e., what is forbidden, [as well as] what is permitted, this [study] will lead a person to yeshus and self-concern. He will fall from [his spiritual rung], and ultimately, he will study with an undesirable intent, for his own self-interest, e.g., to enhance his honor, so that he be considered a scholar and the like, or to use as a medium for earning a livelihood, as Rav Chayim Vital writes in his introduction to Shaar HaHakdamos, one of the eight sections of [his classic work, Etz Chayim]. To quote: 1

In particular, in the present age, when because of our many sins, the Torah is considered as an axe with which man can chop, 2 students of the Torah study in order to earn a [financial] reward and receive extra comforts. [Also, their intent is to be] among the heads of the academies and to become judges of Rabbinic courts so that their reputation will spread throughout the land. Their deeds resemble those of the generation of the dispersion, 3 who built a tower with its head in the heavens. The motivating factor for the deeds [of that era] was [also self-aggran­dizement], as the verse testifies: 4 “Let us make a name for ourselves.”

Thus the Zohar Parshas Bereishis, p. 28b) comments on the verse: 5 “These are the generations of the heaven and the earth”: “There are five categories within the mixed multitude and from the three categories within them is 6 called “the group of mighty men,” referred to in the verse: 7 “The mighty men of yore, the men of devastation.” They come from the side about which it was said:4 “Let us build for us a city and a tower... and let us make a name8 for ourselves,” building synagogues and houses of study. They place Torah scrolls in [these buildings] with a crown upon them without the proper intent, only to create [a reputation for themselves].

With regard to such people, it is said in the Gemara: 9It would have been preferable for those who occupy themselves with the Torah without the proper intent to have had their embryos overturned, so that they would never have emerged into this world.

[Thus when a person studies with a selfish intent,] that intent, which stems from [the forces of] kelipas nogah, enclothes itself in his Torah study. The Torah becomes exiled within the kelipah for the moment until he repents. Surely, this applies if his soul has not been purified and his body and soul are sullied with the sins of youth and evil thoughts. These soiled garments enclothe the Torah [he studies] and cause it to descend into the depths of kelipah, heaven forbid.

In such an instance, the Torah he studies becomes an actual potion of death, because of:

a) the essence of those garments. The Torah girds itself in very thick sackcloth, and it is in exile in the midst of the kelipos, heaven forbid; and

b) because of the person’s yeshus. When his Torah study is motivated by personal interest, and particularly when it is af­fected by soiled garments, he becomes filled with self-concern because of his Torah study, [and he becomes possessed by] much pride and conceit. He becomes very coarse and materially oriented, in both a spiri­tual and physical sense. {His yeshus, the concept that he is very important in his own eyes, motivates him to seek satisfac­tion in mortal pleasures (whatever is within his grasp).}

This is the direct opposite of the true approach to the study of the Torah which must be characterized by bittul. For the essence of the attribute of Chochmah of holiness is bittul.

As is well known, the difference between the Chochmah of holiness and the Chochmah of the forces of evil is that the Chochmah of holiness is characterized by bittul as reflected by Moshe’s statement: 10 “What are we?”

Whoever possesses greater wisdom is more batel. For whoever is closer [to G‑d] has less of [a sense of self-impor­tance]. 11 The wisdom of the forces of evil, by contrast, is char­acterized by yeshus. [Therefore Yisro is described 12 as] “the priest of Midian.” For Yisro personified the level of Chochmah of kelipah, the opposite of Moshe. [Therefore, it was] through [Moshe] that he was corrected. For Midian refers to madon, strife and controversy, separation that stems from yeshus, as is well known and explained in other sources. 13

Thus a person who occupies himself in Torah study, G‑d’s wisdom, should be characterized by a complete sense of bittul. The very study of Torah itself should bring about bittul, for [the Torah] is G‑d’s wisdom. [Moreover,] the Torah must be acquired through austerity and a minimum of pleasure as the Mishnah states in the chapter entitled Shanu Chachamim. 14

[In contrast,] a person who becomes controlled by yeshus and self-concern through the study of the Torah is the very opposite. This comes about because the light of holiness [enclothed in the Torah] is very concealed and hidden within the soiled garments, and exiled within them. It thus serves as a “potion of death” for the person, instead of [being revealed] as the true light of the Chochmah of holiness.

[This is indicated by our Sages’ statement:] 15 “Whoever says ‘I possess Torah alone,’ does not even possess Torah.” For [his study] is not Torah. This refers to a person who studies the Torah without the love and fear [of G‑d]. (For concentration in prayer 16 is included in the category of gemilus chassadim, as Rashi states in his gloss to the chapter Mafnin (Shabbos 127b, entry hani bihani shai’achi.)

As a consequence, such people are not able to grasp the true light of the Torah, and they cannot appreciate the true intent of the halachah, as it is written with regard to King David: 17 “And G‑d is with him,” [interpreted by our Sages 18 to mean]: “The halachah follows his opinion in all situations.” The reason the halachah follows his opinion is that “G‑d is with him.” And this is possible because he was batel to G‑dliness.

[To cite a parallel, our Sages 19 state that] the halachah was decided in favor of the School of Hillel [rather than the School of Shammai, because the School of Hillel] were “accommodating and self-effaced.” Their bittul made them mediums through which the true light of the halachah could shine.

Similarly, [for every individual,] in order to appreciate the ultimate intent of the Torah, one must be batel. [Only] then is one a medium in which the truth can shine as it is.

{For this reason, my soul reacts with disdain when I see some young men (who seek to be accepted [in the yeshiva]) and who have studied Torah extensively. Nevertheless, in stature, in appearance, and in the way they feel, they are like simple workmen. The Torah has not instilled its spirit within them at all, causing them to show any measure of refinement.

The reason is that they regard their studies just like a physical task ([to be performed] to earn their upkeep, or so that they will become preachers and sermon-givers) without sensing the G‑dliness involved. And certainly, their conduct is not without reproach. Can studying in this manner be called Torah? Will such students be able to appreciate the true [intent of the halachah]?}

[Instead, one’s study of the Torah] must be preceded by the love and fear of G‑d which, as explained above, reflects the unity and connection between the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Then [one studies] the Torah of truth, as [study] should be. This brings about refinement, [for this study is considered] “as if you redeemed Me and My chil­dren....” 20 It elevates [the sparks of G‑dliness] and unites them in His oneness as explained above.

In one’s [individual] Divine service, [the approach of] yichuda tata’ah alone may cause a person to descend and fall, and [moreover,] on its own accord, it is not considered true service unless it is coupled with the bittul of yichuda ila’ah, as explained above. This same motif applies - and indeed, more powerfully so - with regard to the study of the Torah. Studying without any intent, and without the love and fear [of G‑d], will lead to study which is actually for one’s personal intent, causing one to cling to the Tree of Death.

When, by contrast, one studies with the love and fear [of G‑d], then one will study lishmah, for the sake of the Torah itself. Then the Torah becomes “the Torah of life.”

On this basis, we can understand the use of the fig tree as a metaphor for the Torah. For the fig tree represents the Tree of Knowledge, for the Oral Law which is the attribute of Malchus enclothed itself in the garments of the Tree of Know­ledge of Good and Evil, the forbidden and the permitted. When a person acquires [knowledge of the Oral Law] without the Tree of Life, i.e., without the love and fear [of G‑d], with­out the intent lishmah (i.e., he studies without any intent), he separates [the Torah from its G‑dly source], and causes it to descend, as stated in [the passage of] the Zohar, Parshas Chukas, cited above 21 with regard to “his labor which he will perform beneath the sun,” 22 that he separates the attribute of Malchus. Similarly, with regard to the study of Torah [with the approach] described above, he separates it [from its G‑dly source], and causes it to descend, [making it] a potion of death.” Instead, one’s Torah study has to be joined with the Tree of Life so that it will be “an elixir of life.”

Synopsis: [This chapter] explains how ultimately, when one studies [the Torah] without the love and fear [of G‑d], because of its enclothement in material matters, it can lead to having an intent that is truly undesirable. It becomes a “potion of death,” for through the study the person becomes proud and more physically inclined.

[The chapter also contrasts] the Chochmah of the forces of evil [which is characterized by] yeshus and the Chochmah of holiness [which is characterized by] bit­tul. Then “And G‑d is with him,” [interpreted by our Sages to mean]: “The halachah follows his opinion in all situations.” He will be able to focus on [G‑d’s] ultimate intent.